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World Court Awards Some Territory to Cambodia in Temple Dispute

  • Steve Herman

Judges, right, enter the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday Nov. 11, 2013. The United Nations' highest court is issuing its ruling on a dispute between Cambodia, front left table, and Thailand, rear right table, over land surrounding a 1,000-year-old temple near the Southeast Asian neighbors' border. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Judges, right, enter the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday Nov. 11, 2013. The United Nations' highest court is issuing its ruling on a dispute between Cambodia, front left table, and Thailand, rear right table, over land surrounding a 1,000-year-old temple near the Southeast Asian neighbors' border. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

The International Court of Justice has ruled that part of a disputed patch of land around a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Thai-Cambodian border belongs to Cambodia. Both countries say they will work together to implement the court decision.

The unanimous ruling by the 17 judges of the world court says all of the raised land on which the ancient Khmer Hindu temple sits belongs to Cambodia.

The court’s president, Judge Peter Tomka, read the decision Monday at the Hague, noting the ICJ’s previous ruling on the matter in 1962 awarding the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple itself to Cambodia.

“…in consequence, the second operative paragraph requires Thailand to withdraw from that territory the Thai military or police forces or other guards or keepers who were stationed there,” said Tomka.

While adjusting some of the disputed boundary, the decision leaves unresolved the sovereignty of much of the 4.6 square kilometer area in the immediate vicinity of the religious site.

Sensitive timing

The ruling comes at a particularly sensitive time for the political leaders of both countries. They have been facing street protests questioning their legitimacy and authority and there are worries in both capitals that the ruling about the temple could be taken up by the political opposition.

Location of Preah Vihear temple

Location of Preah Vihear temple

The ICJ decision rejects some territorial claims in the area made by each country thus it is not a total victory for either side.

But even before the verdict was issued, self proclaimed patriots on both sides of the disputed border had stated they were prepared to fight if the verdict did not go their way or if there are perceived provocations across the border.

Within hours of the verdict, Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra appeared in a nationally televised address, saying the court had taken her country’s stance into consideration and that Bangkok should work with Phnom Penh to resolve outstanding issues.

The prime minister said Thailand’s sovereignty will be protected, that the border area is calm and that the army has the situation under control.

At The Hague, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong also expressed satisfaction with the verdict and called for continued negotiations between the two governments “in order the keep the problem under control.”

The unresolved territorial issue led to the armies of the two countries, in 2011, exchanging artillery fire, resulting in dozens of deaths.
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